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Conventional publishing

These guidelines here are not strict rules, but they should help you navigate the world of publishing.

The Contract

The first thing to remember is to ALWAYS READ the terms of publication or the contract. If you don't understand something, ASK! Reputable publishers will explain everything. If a publisher tries to put you off ("Oh, that's just legal jargon; you don't have to worry about that!"), then proceed with care.

There is some room for negotiation, but remember that publishers are in business and won't agree to anything that is unprofitable for them. If you think a publisher is being unreasonable, check online to find out what is normal or common, and google the publisher to see what others' experiences are.

Never agree to anything you don't understand. It's like a foreign language: if you don't understand, don't say yes.

Your Rights

Are you agreeing to have your work published just once? You should not give away all your rights forever, but if you are publishing in a magazine or anthology, it is fair for the publisher to ask that you don't publish anywhere else for a certain period (perhaps a year) after they have published your piece.

Do you get to keep your copyright? You should.

Where does the publisher have rights to distribute?

What happens if your book is translated, including into Braille? Often, publishers will specify that nothing will be paid to you for a Braille translation if that translation is done by a non-profit organization. This is perfectly normal. The publisher won't be paid either, because such a translation is usually done by volunteers as a community service. You should get some royalties if your book is translated for a commercial publisher.

It is important to be sure you understand when your book will be considered out of print. The contract should define this. Once it is out of print, you can, for example, put it online if you don't think any money can be made but want to make it available. It can be difficult to determine what "out of print" means if your book is also published in an e-version.

How many author copies will you get? This number usually ranges from two to six.

Your Obligations

Make sure that you follow the submission guidelines.

Sometimes, editors want something that hasn't been published before; make sure that you comply: you must be clear and honest with the publisher about this. Remember that putting something online usually counts as "publishing", so don't put online anything you are going to try to sell.

Submit the manuscript on time, at the very least, but early if possible. Make a good impression!

It is quite common for publishers to ask you to pay for an index or do it yourself, if you want one. This is also normal. (As an aside, you are the best person to index your book.)


Royalties can be a source of great confusion. Remember that a publisher pays for the final proofreading, layout, design, cover design, printing, distribution, and marketing of your book. They also want to make a profit, as does the shop that sells your book. So royalties will not be as much as you think.